For most of the 2018 NFL season, offenses dominated the league’s landscape. Huge statistical performances began to draw yawns more often than surprise.
When it all ended Sunday, the early-season offensive explosion had regressed in the general direction of the mean, if not all the way there.
Sure, NFL offenses, particularly some of the game’s most exciting young stars, posted eye-popping numbers. But that didn’t prevent some of the league’s best defenders from reminding everyone that they, too, have a say in the outcome of the games each week.
With that in mind, here are the 2018 regular-season leaders in the major categories on offense and defense:
There was no more ascendant star in 2018 than Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes dazzled with his arm strength and accuracy, particularly when plays went off schedule and he had to create something out of nothing. He became the third quarterback in league history to throw for 50 or more touchdowns in a season. While Mahomes was announcing his arrival, the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck was reminding everyone that he shouldn’t be forgotten in the discussion about the league’s best signal-callers. His 39 touchdown passes were the most by a player who missed the previous season.
1.Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes -- 50
2.Colts QB Andrew Luck -- 39
3.Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, Falcons QB Matt Ryan -- 35
4.Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger -- 34
Mahomes became one of seven players in league history to surpass 5,000 passing yards in a season, but that wasn’t enough for him to wear the crown in this category. Roethlisberger reached 5,000 yards for the first time in his career and managed to throw for more yardage than any other quarterback.
1.Roethlisberger -- 5,129
2.Mahomes -- 5,097
3.Ryan -- 4,924
4.Rams QB Jared Goff -- 4,688
5.Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, Luck -- 4,593
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees did what he does, once again leading the NFL in completion percentage and once again resetting his record with the highest completion percentage in NFL history. This is the fourth time Brees has set that record in his career.
1.Brees -- 74.4 percent
2.Vikings QB Kirk Cousins -- 70.1 percent
3.Eagles QB Carson Wentz -- 69.6 percent
4.Ryan -- 69.4 percent
5.Titans QB Marcus Mariota, Raiders QB Derek Carr -- 68.9 percent
A late-season knee issue cost Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II the rushing crown, as he came up just short for the second consecutive season because he didn’t play in a game or two at the end of the season. But Gurley was also the only top-five finisher from last season to land in the top five again. Newcomers to the list such as the Giants' Saquon Barkley, Seattle’s Chris Carson and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon are the type of exciting young talents who could become mainstays.
1.Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott -- 1,434
2.Barkley -- 1,307
3.Gurley II -- 1,251
4.Mixon -- 1,168
5.Carson -- 1,151
Gurley didn’t need the final two games of the season to score the most touchdowns in 2018, though his fantasy owners would've loved for him to add to his total. It was his second straight season scoring the most rushing touchdowns. Saints running back Alvin Kamara showed that he is more than just a weapon in the passing game by finishing second here, after teammate Mark Ingram did so in 2017.
1.Gurley -- 17
2.Saints RB Alvin Kamara -- 14
3.Titans RB Derrick Henry, Steelers RB James Conner -- 12
4.Barkley -- 11
5.Chargers RB Melvin Gordon -- 10
For the fifth straight season, Falcons receiver Julio Jones finished in the top five in this category, this time with a performance that was 233 yards more than what he posted last season. Jones is the fourth player in league history with multiple 1,600-yard seasons, joining Torry Holt, Antonio Brown and Marvin Harrison. While it’s normally Brown providing the most competition, Houston wideout DeAndre Hopkins has also made himself a mainstay. He finished fourth in 2017 and improved by almost 200 yards in 2018. Bucs receiver Mike Evans set the franchise record for receiving yards with his performance.
1.Jones -- 1,677
2.Hopkins -- 1,572
3.Evans -- 1,524
4.Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill -- 1,479
5.Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster -- 1,426
Saints receiver Michael Thomas took his place in the pantheon of the game’s top wideouts this season, not just because of his tribute to Joe Horn’s cellphone celebration but also because of his prolific ability to catch almost every pass thrown his way. He easily finished with the most catches and set a Saints record for receiving yards in a season, passing Horn. Ertz was the Eagles’ most dependable pass-catcher, finishing with more grabs than any pass-catcher had in 2017.
1.Thomas -- 125
2.Ertz -- 116
3.Hopkins -- 115
4.Jones, Vikings WR Adam Thielen -- 113
5.Packers WR Davante Adams, Smith-Schuster -- 111
Brown is no stranger to this list, and though his other numbers weren’t up to their usual heights, he managed to find pay dirt consistently. But this season did bring one surprise addition to the list in the form of Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron, who signed with the Colts as a free agent, never had more than five touchdowns in a season and had just 11 in his previous four seasons combined before becoming one of Luck’s most productive targets.
1.Brown -- 15
2.Colts TE Eric Ebron, Adams -- 13
3.Hill -- 12
4.Hopkins -- 11
Yards from scrimmage
Barkley didn’t just burst onto the scene with a solid season. He quickly established himself as the type of dynamic dual-threat capable of taking over games. He became the third rookie in NFL history with 2,000 or more yards from scrimmage and tied Eric Dickerson for the most 100-yard scrimmage games by a rookie in NFL history with 13. Elliott reasserted himself in the discussion about the game’s most complete backs, also surpassing 2,000 scrimmage yards.
1.Barkley -- 2,028
2.Elliott -- 2,001
3.Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey -- 1,965
4.Gurley -- 1,831
5.Jones -- 1,689
Perhaps no player in the league was around the ball more in 2018 than Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, who easily outpaced the rest of the league in tackles. Snubbed from a Pro Bowl selection, Leonard was an instant impact defender who has a shot at the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was another rookie linebacker who was all over the field and should join Leonard near the top of this list for years to come.
1.Leonard -- 163
2.Packers LB Blake Martinez -- 144
3.Vander Esch -- 140
4.Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner -- 138
5.Chiefs LB Anthony Hitchens -- 135
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald fell just short of Michael Strahan’s record for most sacks in a season, but he managed to break the franchise record and set the league mark for most sacks by a defensive tackle. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt proved that he is still a force in finishing second, and Kansas City’s Chris Jones made sure his name was among the league’s most disruptive defenders as well.
1.Donald -- 20.5
2.Watt -- 16
3.C. Jones -- 15.5
4.Broncos LB Von Miller, Vikings DE Danielle Hunter -- 14.5
5.Seahawks DE Frank Clark -- 14
None of the players who had five or more interceptions last season was able to duplicate that performance in 2018. But two Bears found themselves at or near the top of the list. Cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson combined for 13 picks to carry the freight for the league’s most dominant and opportunistic defense.
1.Fuller, Falcons S Damontae Kazee, Dolphins CB Xavien Howard -- 7
2.E. Jackson -- 6
3.Giants LB Alec Ogletree, Bengals S Shawn Williams -- 5
Watt and Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford made a habit of forcing fumbles when they got home for sacks, something Watt has done consistently throughout his career. When the Bears weren’t getting takeaways via interceptions, it was probably defensive end Khalil Mack forcing fumbles to get the ball back for Chicago’s offense.
1.Watt, Chiefs LB Dee Ford -- 7
2.Bears DE Khalil Mack, Steelers LB T.J. Watt -- 6
3.Chiefs LB Justin Houston -- 5